We have finally reached the conclusion to chapter 5 and its fascinating discussion of how the practices of Christian worship can change us. I particularly liked Smith’s conclusion to this chapter: considering how to take these practices along into our day-to-day lives. Ah, finally! The rubber meets the road!
Attending Sunday worship is a crucial counter-formational practice. Earlier in chapter 5 in the section entitled “Call to Worship”, Smith had noted that it is rather telling that we bother to go to church at all. He drew a rather vivid picture of someone, perhaps a college student, getting up early to go to church on a Sunday morning when everyone else is sleeping in. This image resonated with me since it reminded me of going to church on Sunday mornings the year we lived in France. Even though France is a very secular country (I know there were only 3 very small Protestant churches in the city of 100,000 where we lived, and perhaps that many Catholic ones), everyone there likes to take a rest on Sunday. Most businesses are closed, and those that open do so with reduced hours. The busses run on a very reduced schedule. We had to walk about 30 minutes to the church we attended and there were very, very few people out and about. Getting up and going to church on Sunday really did mark us as ‘peculiar people’ in that society. And once we get to church, the act of participating in corporate worship is very concentrated, charged with meaning and formational power. Nevertheless attending church on Sunday morning is not enough. We must carry our counter-formational practices into the rest of the week as well. So how do we do that? Smith offers us some practical suggestions:
1. Recognize secular “liturgies” for what they are – this lessens their formative power: “If we can start to see cultural practices for what they are, it’s as if we can then say to them, ‘I see what you’re up to…’ So this recognition, coupled with intentional participation in Christian worship, can decrease (but not eliminate) the formative power of secular liturgies.”
2. Choose to abstain from certain ‘normal’ cultural practices. Smith didn’t say this, but I would also add that when one chooses to abstain from a certain practice, it is important to replace it with something that will have a better formative influence. Charlotte Mason talks about breaking bad habits by replacing them with good ones, and I think the same principle can apply here too. A couple of examples of ways we have done this is our home:
- Intentionally choosing not to be involved in tons of outside activities so we can place a priority on our family relationships, be available for hospitality, and other such things. (Admittedly, this is much easier to do in Africa where there is far fewer activities to choose from, but even if we lived on the States I think we would still be very careful about how many and what kinds of activities we would spend our time on.)
- Limited TV. We don’t own one, actually (and still wouldn’t if we lived in the States), so what we do watch is on DVD on our computer. This limits the amount of advertising we are exposed to (especially our children) and eliminates mindless channel surfing. We make intentional choices about what we choose to watch or not to watch, and it is not constantly on in the background.
3. Cultivate habits of daily worship. Prayer and Devotional reading – both privately and in community – are important daily practices not to be limited to Sunday morning. This is something that is important for everyone, but we’ve found extremely important to our family since we live overseas and have to deal with language and cultural differences in our church environment. (It’s still important to be there, but it doesn’t have quite the same ‘power’ as worshipping in your mother tongue!)
Ways that I try to do this in my private devotional time:
- Opening and closing my day with Bible and devotional reading (check the sidebar for my current choices) and journaling.
- Prayer – often using Psalms or the topically arranged Scripture passages in Daily Light as a template – sometimes just praying, sometimes doodling or writing as I pray.
- Listening to sermons, podcasts, and uplifting music as I go throughout my day.
Ways that we do this as a whole family:
- Our Breakfast Devotional Time: Scripture and Catechism memory (new and review), reading from Psalms and Proverbs, Hymn Singing, and Prayer focused on Adoration, Confessing our Need for Him and asking for His help, Thanks, and Requests for others.
- Our Evening Devotional Time: Prayer time based on a Psalm, Bible story with narration and discussion (working towards a ‘habit’ of imagination and wonder here)
4. Live ‘communally’, recognizing that friendships and family relationships are important. I struggle with this one a bit because we are rather transient (it’s difficult to build deep-rooted relationships when either your family or your friends’ families move internationally every year or two…), and I am also an introvert. A shy introvert. A shy introvert who has said good-bye too many times. (Ahem.) But at the same time, I see the importance of recognizing that we aren’t meant to go through life alone. I do desire to have these kinds of deep relationships. And in my own way, I do have them. We place a lot of emphasis in our home on developing our immediate family relationships (at least when we move, we move all together!) I am still best friends with my best friend from high school, despite the fact that our lives have moved in vastly different directions and we really only see each other once every few years now. We’re still the ones that we turn to first in joys and trials. We really know each other – sometimes better than we know ourselves I think – 20 years is a lot of water under the bridge! I treasure that. When I was a single missionary in Papua New Guinea, I had a family that took me in to theirs – right down to having Christmas morning and vacations with them. They were the ones that talked, prayed, and encouraged me through my long-distance courtship with my husband. And now we have a young, single missionary lady who is part of our family. She lived with us for almost a month last fall when she was recovering from illness, and recently stayed with our children while we went away for our tenth anniversary weekend. She loves and is loved by our children, is always up for a cup of tea and a chat, and has been a source of joy and encouragement to me as well.
In all of these things, the goal is to be living out the Kingdom NOW as a testimony to the world around us. It is easy to get caught up in the notion of ‘changing’ or ‘transforming’ the world – doing something Big for the Kingdom, especially in missionary circles. But more and more I am coming to realize that perhaps in order to do this we must first live out the truth. This idea was confirmed by our conference speaker (sorry – you’ll be hearing a lot about him in the next couple of weeks I’m afraid) in the message he brought to us about Ezra. He made the point that Ezra was qualified to be used by God in ministry because he had first been shaped by God’s Word. The phrase “you haven’t learned it until you’ve lived it” keeps popping to my mind here too.
So, let’s live out His Truth. Let’s choose practices that will form us into people who reflect His glory and image to the world – on Sunday and Every Day.
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